Inspirational minister and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on 4 April 1968, whilst standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.
His death triggered riots and demonstrations in hundreds of cities across America, reported as the “greatest wave of social unrest the United States experienced since the Civil War”. In the days after his death civilians took to the streets to protest and mourn the loss of a figure so pioneering in the fight against racial inequality, despite his preaching of nonviolent action riots emerged when racial tensions caused citizens to clash.
His achievements for the equal rights movement were immense, King mobilised a movement that saw Congress pass the Civil Rights Act of 1968 that provided fair housing, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, religion and expanded later to sex, familial status, and disability. He influenced the Civil Rights Movement in South Africa and countless civil rights activists across the world.
King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, and posthumously the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and Congressional Gold Medal in 2004.
"It is our mission to fulfill his vision of a nation devoted to rejecting bigotry in all its forms." —President Obama #MLKDay
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) January 18, 2016
A U.S. federal holiday in his name was started in 1986; today is the 30th year of its celebration.
This day marks the hope and determination of U.S citizens to progress as a multicultural society rich with culture and safe in justice and equality for all.
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
It is clear from the news, cultural representation in the media and social commentary that there is still so much to do to overcome racism in the U.S., particularly when considering the frequent cases of police violence towards young African Americans. In 2015 a staggering 75 unarmed African Americans were killed by police in the U.S., calling into question the culture of deadly prejudice within the system.
There have however been many gains in the struggle for equality. We look over the achievements that bring the U.S closer to the ideals Martin Luther King, Jr. fought so hard for.
2016 – The confederate flag is removed from government agencies, notably being removed from the South Carolina Statehouse, where civil rights leaders are set to gather today. The flag is considered by many to be a symbol of racial hatred particularly in the Southern states of the U.S.
2015 – 46 African American members are included in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate.
2009 – Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America. In the same year he is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between people”.
2008 – Sen. Barack Obama becomes the first African American to be nominated as a major party nominee for president.
2005 – Condoleezza Rice becomes the first African American female U.S. Secretary of State.
2002 – Halle Berry is the first African Ameerican woman to win Best Actress Academy Aeward for her role in Monster’s Ball. Denzel Washington also wins best Actor for Training Day.
2001 – Colin Powell becomes the first African American U.S. Secretary of State.
1983 – First African American astronaut in space, Guion Bluford Jr. launches from the Kennedy Space Centre on the shuttle Challenger on a mission to release a communications and weather satellite.
1972 – Experiments end that use hundreds of African American men for laboratory testing. A class action suit was filed and an out-of-court settlement provided a $10 million for the men and their families as compensation.